THE COUNCIL of the National Farmers’ Union has reiterated its commitment to the principles of farm assurance, recognising the value assurance schemes play for its farmer and grower members and their vital role in giving access to key markets.
Council also recognised the major role Red Tractor has played in achieving that since its formation in 2000, now appearing on over £15 billion of produce.
Within that, Council expressed, through a resolution, its concerns about the delivery of Red Tractor’s new bolt-on environmental module, the Greener Farms Commitment (GFC). Whilst recognising and embracing the increasing role of sustainability in farm assurance, Council members felt that more granular, technical and practical elements of the GFC should have been consulted on more widely before the module was unveiled.
NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw said, “Red Tractor has been a positive thing for our members and, indeed, is an organisation we helped establish for that very reason. We continue to believe that should be the case and the important thing now is for us to work to address the concerns Council has identified and go forward, together, to face the challenges the sector faces in the years ahead.
“We all accept that the roll-out of the GFC hasn’t been as any of us would have wished, but the issue is about procedures, not principles. We can and should work together to address those issues, get past this and move on for the benefit of farmers, growers, the wider supply chain and, crucially, consumers.”
This seems to be a significant change of tone from the NFU. Only last week Bradshaw issued a statement, which said, “For the past 18 months [NFU has] been robustly challenging the governance behind the development of this environment module.
“I was alarmed that it had been previously decided by the Red Tractor board that in developing this module all of the technical committees and sector boards where NFU members sit would be bypassed. I have found this position completely unacceptable and said so repeatedly. We have never said that as one of the 18 members of the Red Tractor board we didn’t have knowledge of the module, but at no point have expert NFU members and advisors been involved with the development of the crucial details within it.
“Consequently, at the final Red Tractor board meeting where this was agreed in September, I again argued for greater oversight, and significant concessions were gained by the NFU to allow the module to be scrutinised by the technical advisory committees of all farming sectors and the sector boards. We also fought for and gained agreement to set up a Development Advisory Panel to further scrutinise development of the greener farms work. At the same time, we highlighted significant concerns about how this could work in the devolved nations with their differing agricultural policies. They have not been involved at all. With these concessions won we felt that the board could approve the position, sending it out for this wider scrutiny.
“As it stands, there has been no clear vision delivered as to how this is going to add any value to farm gate and yet it will help retailers deliver more of their ESG requirements, which ultimately brings value.”
Bradshaw concluded, “I, more than anyone, want British farming to stand up to the challenges of imports from around the world; to demonstrate the sustainability credentials of British farming and to drive solutions to the environmental challenges we face. This module could provide some of the solutions if deployed in the correct sectors and with minimal cost burden, and after the proper scrutiny that was agreed. Ultimately however, the additional cost cannot be shouldered by our farmer members and the supply chain will have to pay a premium for the associated increase in costs.”